Media Week: National newspapers and the Football League
The future of national newspaper coverage of the Football League seems to be at a crossroads. With the unceasing growth of social media moulding the way the media works, there is a sense that the press can no longer ignore divisions beneath the Premier League. Maybe that’s just my natural optimism shining through… Ryan Hubbard is more sceptical.
What is your opinion of Football League coverage in the national press? The fact is that in your average 20-or-so page Monday football supplement, the amount of coverage given to the bottom 52% of England’s League Football ladder will generally take up as much space as a match report of a mid-table Premier League game; and the biggest individual third-level game analysis clocking-in as slightly smaller than the obligatory back-page “Male Baldness Cure” advertisement. The country’s second tier doesn’t fare too much better either, with it being a good week if more than a handful of the match reports are accompanied by a photograph. Due to the relative size of the Championship, the lack of reporting probably makes it one of the least covered leagues, in regards to its’ size, in Europe.
Although it’s very likely that the writers are hampered by a minimal number of column inches, the quality of Football League reporting also seems to be behind that of the top-flight scribes. Unable to go into depth, it’s nigh-on-impossible to sum up 90 minutes of football in just a few lines. However, I have watched Football League games where fans have been in unanimous agreement that a certain player has been outstanding for his team, only to see him given a rating of 5 or 6 in the tabloids. In total contrast, I have also seen one of the most anonymous players on a pitch given the “Star Man” accolade, leading me to wonder if some of the journalists are too busy tucking into their free prawn sarnies and Soleros to notice what is actually transpiring on the pitch below.
Although it may not be noticeable to fans inside the Premier bubble, the papers also seem to show a number of double-standards when it comes to reporting news from outside of the “promised land”. A top-four club looking to spend £50 million on a single player can be reported as a sensational piece of business, whereas a Championship club spending more than a couple of million on a man is billed as “trying to buy their way out of the league”.
It’s not just transfers either; When Leicester’s home was renamed to the “King Power Stadium” due to a new sponsorship deal (changing from the Walkers Stadium — its name since opening 9 years ago), some journalists went into uproar calling it a “desecration of the club’s history” and the “loss of its dignity”. However, when Manchester City renamed their previously un-sponsored Eastlands ground to the Etihad Stadium weeks later, barely an eyelid was batted. Woe betide our national press doing anything to annoy one of the big boys.
But with the modern technologies – which so many of us now well and truly immerse ourselves in — now available at peoples’ fingertips, the printed media seems now to be slowly drifting into the background. With the emergence of the so-called internet “blogosphere” over the past few years, do we really need to rely on the newspapers for our weekly football round-up? There are arguably better writers out there on the internet churning out match reports, opinions on the latest news, or stories that are deemed not important enough to make the papers.
And due to the fact that their articles are made accessible so cheaply, quickly and easily, by the time the Sunday papers hit the shops most of the professional stuff is considered as old news. If you wanted a decent write-up on this season’s opening day’s clash between (and this is a random choice) Peterborough United and Crystal Palace, there was a good chance you’d have been able to find one online within hours; whereas the papers are more than happy to fob you off with a couple of paragraphs whilst devoting 4 whole pages to the Community Shield (essentially a big friendly game), and a page on yet another random player, who has had his words twisted to make it sound like he’s after a transfer.
It’s understandable that not every game can be covered to the detail of a Manchester United against Arsenal thriller; but for many people whose loyalties lie outside the glitz and glamour of the Premier League, it’s sometimes difficult to justify buying newspapers to get just a couple of sentences about the games that really matter to them.
Every opinion or nugget of information found in print can also be found just as easily online; and in far more detail and with far more quality. Would you prefer to read a Football League match report from someone happy to be at the game and writing about it for enjoyment, or a few lines from a reporter wishing he was covering the “proper football” of the Premier League? To me it’s really a no-brainer.
However, despite the emergence and ever-increasing popularity of football blogs, shared around on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter; there is for now still a place for the printed news. There are many who aren’t “techno-savvy” and rely on the red-tops to provide their football fix, whilst there are many more that are simply unaware of the treasure trove of footballing gold to be found online. There are many who rely on their daily paper to tell them what’s happening in their world, whether that be football or finance; sport or celebrity. But what these people may not realise is that they are only getting a part of the story, and sometimes it’s hardly a story at all.
Although we might not be quite there yet, the limitless capabilities and diversity in depth of modern technology will surely surpass the stubbornness and rigidity of the printed sports press. It is a shame, as there are some real quality sports writers in the press; but rather than reporting the interesting and diverse, the majority of organisations are merely interested in making a profit by thrusting wild transfer speculation at us.
In the future, the papers’ narrow focus may force more people to look at other outlets for their football stories. As sad as it may be, I for one really don’t think I would be losing out on much.